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Wal-Mart Openings Result in Only a Small Reduction in Crime Rates

Update Date: Feb 08, 2014 10:44 AM EST

Crime rates during the 1990s declined drastically in many communities throughout the United States. In a new study, researchers examined these reductions and found that in areas where a Wal-Mart was being built, the crime rates did not fall as much in comparison to communities that did not have this super store.

"The crime decline was stunted in counties where Wal-Mart expanded in the 1990s," stated Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina and lead author of a new study. "If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county."

Wolfe worked with co-author David Pyrooz, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University to see if Wal-Mart was tied to more or less crime. The research team studied 3,109 U.S. counties and focused particularly on Wal-Mart expansion during the 1990s. The company had expanded to 767 counties.

"There are reasons why Wal-Mart ranks among the most successful commercial enterprises in U.S. history. They are very strategic about where they build stores," Wolfe said according to the press release. "There have been dozens of studies on the 'Wal-Mart effect' showing the company impacts numerous outcomes closely related to crime. Our objective was to determine if the Wal-Mart effect extended to understanding crime rates during arguably one of the most pivotal historical periods in the study of crime."

The researchers compared similar counties with or without a Wal-Mart to one another. They also tracked the crime rates within these counties. The researchers found that Wal-Mart tended to select areas where the crime rates were already higher than the average. After accounting for factors tied to crime, which were poverty, population structure, immigration and residential turnover, the team found that the relationship still existed.

The researchers reasoned that Wal-Mart might have built their stores in these select counties because the residents were less likely to complain. However, the researchers could not explain how Wal-Mart could have prevented the crime rates from falling as drastically as they should have.

"Counties with more social capital-citizens able and willing to speak up about the best interests of the community-tend to have lower crime rates," Pyrooz explained. "Counties with more crime may have less social capital and, therefore, less ability to prevent Wal-Mart from building."

The study, "Rolling back prices and raising crime rates? The Wal-Mart effect on crime in the United States," was published in the British Journal of Criminology.

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